Is Christianity Responsible for the Holocaust?

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A number of weeks ago, I wrote a blog article on whether Adolf Hitler was a Christian. By way of a very brief summary, there is always a link between one’s ideas and one’s actions. With the kind of influence that Hitler had in the German politics of his day, what Hitler believed has some significance to our understanding of the Jewish Holocaust perpetrated by the Nazis during World War II. Based on reports from his close associates and things Hitler said himself, I concluded that he was not a Christian in any meaningful sense of the word.

Understandably, this view draws heat from some people. Taking after writers like the late Christopher Hitchens and other New Atheists, skeptics of Christianity try to put blame on Christianity itself (or, at least, on Christians). Can they successfully do so? I think not. One of the greatest developments in the Historical Jesus studies is what is sometimes referred to as the “Jewish Reclamation” of Jesus. That is to say, scholars came to recognize that the proper context in which to understand the life, teaching, and person of Jesus of Nazareth is 1st-century Palestinian Judaism and his own Jewish-ness.

Second Temple

Jesus himself was a Jew.

His early disciples were Jews.

Apostle Paul himself was a Jew.

So how is Christianity anti-Semitic again?

Now, that is not to deny that some Christians have been anti-Semitic in the past (or are anti-Semitic today). But I would argue that those who call themselves Christians and remain in anti-Semitism are not Christians at all. This is simply because a Christian is, by the very definition of the word itself, a follower of Christ. A “Christian” who does not (earnestly desire to) follow the teachings of Christ is no more Christian than an atheist who believes in God is atheistic. If I am a math teacher and teach a student that 2+2=4, yet this student graduates and then insists that 2+2=7, am I to take the blame for teaching him that 2+2=7?

Here, a skeptic may well raise the objection that this commits the No True Scotsman fallacy. If you are not familiar with this fallacy, this is how it works. Imagine this conversation:

Person A: A Scotsman doesn’t put sugar in his porridge.
Person B: I’m a Scotsman and I put sugar in my porridge.
Person A: You are not a true Scotsman.

William Wallace probably didn't put sugar in his porridge.

William Wallace probably didn’t put sugar in his porridge.

Notice what just happened. Person A made a claim to which Person B offered counter-evidence. Instead of refuting the counter-evidence, Person A simply “moves the goalposts” to retain his original assertion. A skeptic might say the same of me, that I am simply “moving the goalposts” of what it means to be a Christian to dodge the anti-Semitic counter-evidence.

Here is the problem with that charge: the No True Scotsman fallacy can only be established if I do not reference any specific objective standard. In this case, I do have an objective standard for being a Christian; I can simply refer to what the founder of the Christian faith had to say about being His follower (since, again, that is what Christian means—“follower of Christ”). For one, Jesus taught that the greatest commandment is to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” and to “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:30-31 NIV). It does not take a professional theologian to see that the ethics of those “Christians” who supported the slaughter of those they deemed as racially inferior most certainly cannot be reconciled with loving one’s neighbor as oneself. Their self-identification as “Christian” is meaningless. As Jesus teaches in Matthew 7:21-24:

Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’

Before we criticize any worldview—be it Christianity, Judaism, atheism, Buddhism, or anything else—we must remember the wise words of St. Augustine: Never judge a philosophy by its abuse.

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